The prices of most major cooking oils dropped about ₹5-10 a litre in Delhi and as much as ₹20 in some other cities in the run-up to Diwali, Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey said on Friday, giving credit to the stabilisation of global prices as well as measures such as duty cuts and stock limits. However, the national average retail prices for cooking oils showed little change, and mustard oil, which is only produced domestically, continued to see rising prices.
“International edible oil prices remain high, but have stabilised over the past week. Interventions by the Central Government along with the State Governments’ proactive involvement and the cut in wholesale prices by major private players have led to retail prices cooling down much more than the international market,” Mr. Pandey told journalists.
Apart from the cuts in duties and cesses, the Centre had used stock limits to help control prices of both edible oils and pulses this year, using the provisions of the Essential Commodities Act. The amendments to the Act, which were passed by Parliament last year but suspended by the Supreme Court in January due to opposition by farm unions, would not have allowed the imposition of stock limits given the current rate of price hikes.
‘COVID-19 a major factor’
“These are extraordinary times. These are not normal times. Global commodity prices are extremely high. COVID-19 is a major factor, disrupting supply chains, closing down industry. There is insufficient labour in the oil production industry in many countries. Given the extraordinary circumstances, it is right to invoke this,” stated Mr. Pandey, explaining why the Government had chosen to use the same legal provisions it had sought to remove through last year’s amendments.
The retail prices of most major cooking oils were 35-45% higher than a year ago. However, a clear decline in prices was seen in Delhi from the beginning of the week till Diwali eve, with prices falling ₹5-10 a kg over the three-day period. Some smaller centres saw greater declines, such as the ₹18 a kg fall in palm oil in Aligarh and the ₹20 a kg fall in sunflower prices in Meghalaya. Nationally, the palm oil prices fell about ₹1.45 a kg, while soybean oil increased the same amount.
Mustard oil, which accounted for 11% of the domestic consumption basket, saw a ₹2.29 a kg increase in prices, although Mr. Pandey hoped that the 12-15% increase in mustard acreage this winter would cool down prices once the harvest comes in.
Free ration scheme
With regard to Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), Mr. Pandey observed that there were no plans to extend the free ration scheme introduced as COVID-19 relief last year beyond November 30.
“As the economy is also reviving and the OMSS [or open market sale scheme] is also exceptionally good, there is no proposal from the department for extension,” he noted.
PMGKAY was rolled out in March 2020 as part of the first COVID-19 relief package, and has been extended twice since then. It provides five kg of free foodgrain a month to the 80 crore beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act, who are already eligible for subsidised grain.